04/01/2014, 00.00
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I, a poet and South Vietnamese soldier, found God and the Virgin in communist prisons

by HT
The 68-year old J.B Nguyễn Hữu Cầu spent nearly 39 years in prison in Hanoi. He is one of the longest serving political prisoners in the Asian nation. Released on presidential pardon for poor state of health. In prison he encountered faith in Jesus. Rosary and Way of the Cross, sources of strength to overcome pain and forgive his captors.

Ho Chi Minh City ( AsiaNews) - During his years in prison he encountered Christianity and decided to convert, receiving baptism, and later was able to transform the chains that kept him imprisoned, consisting of 90 rings, into a rosary recited up to five times a day. Faith alone enabled him to face and overcome nearly 40 years spent in prison in Vietnam, while his body was marked by deafness and almost total blindness caused by suffering. However, his spirit is still able to give thanks for the gift of faith received. And even forgive his captors : "The love of God and the Virgin Mary has changed me. I no longer hate my 'brothers and sisters' (of the communist regime )".

This is the story of 68-year old J.B Nguyễn Hữu Cầu (born in 1945), poet, musician, composer and captain of the army of the Republic of South Vietnam before the reunification in 1975.  He is one of the longest serving political prisoners in the Asian nation, since the seizing of power by the communists in the North. Arrested at the end of the war, he spent six years in a re-education through labor camp and in 1982 was  imprisoned, because of his work as a poet and composer critical at times of the communist regime.

In 1983 he was sentenced to death in a case against him for denouncing widespread corruption among senior army officials in Hanoi and for the crimes committed by soldiers against the people. Following this he was also charged with sabotage and of having damaged "the regime's image". He has always declared his innocence and authorities later commuted his death sentences to life in prison.

For years he lived in complete isolation, on the margins of a labor camp immersed within a forest. The years in prison have deeply marked him, leaving him almost incapable of hearing, blind in his left eye and with serious problems of vision in the right. On March 22 , 2014, after almost 39 years, he was freed, following an amnesty granted by Vietnamese President Truong Tan Sang, an act of charity rather than a political move, given his health conditions, as confirmed by his son.

In recent days, he spoke of his experience in prison, to the newspaper Catholic News, in particular about the theme of faith and his conversion to Christianity during captivity . " Easter 1986, 28 years ago, I was baptized and christened in the prison by Fr. Joseph Nguyen of the Society of Jesus". The priest taught him the fundamentals of Christianity, prayers and catechism . He would recite seven Rosaries and make the Way of the Cross five times a day.

To those who approached him in prison, he used to repeat "I was shackled by a long chain of 90 links. I made the chain my Rosary with 50 links. This is my first Rosary. Perhaps the "most severe" Rosary in the world". A cellmate, brother Paul, gave him a small cross made with coconuts, and " I have also composed a song dedicated to the Holy Cross: The Holy Cross comes to me from the deepest depths in the world [...] it sustained men in this earthly prison". He adds: " I ​​have always believed in the love of God".

Free from the bonds and the chains of communist prisons, the Vietnamese poet and dissident confesses that "the love of God and the Virgin Mary have changed me . I no longer feel resentment for my 'brothers and sisters' (of the regime). We all have the same roots. We descend all from King Hùng Vương. This is why we must love one another. And once more I believe in the Trinity and the Virgin Mary. Which helped me to overcome the pitfalls of fate and prevented me from killing myself during the years in jail".


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